Bento lunches don’t have to be filled with a multitude of different dishes in order to be appealing; focus on packing a balance of food groups and contrasting natural colors in your meal and you’ll find that a simple lunch can be just as attractive and satisfying as an ornate one. Other visually simple lunches I’ve made include zarusoba, chili con carne, and chicken curry pasta (a Leftover Remake).
This lunch revisits the meatball-stuffed onigiri rice “bombs” that I packed in an adult lunch last year (photo below, click for detail) after spying them in a Japanese-language onigiri cookbook. Making them is pretty straightforward: with your hands or ball-shaped onigiri mold (photo below), cover a meatball with warm short- or medium-grain rice, then completely cover that with moistened scraps of nori seaweed. I used pre-made teriyaki meatballs that I picked up at Costco and seasoned Korean seaweed for flavor, but regular Japanese nori is easier to work with and keeps its shape better afterwards as it’s less delicate.
Contents of preschooler lunch: Onigiri rice “bombs” stuffed with teriyaki pineapple chicken meatballs (my favorite, Aidells brand), grape tomatoes and steamed bell pepper with Korean barbecue sauce. I keep a bottle of Korean barbecue sauce in my fridge to quickly flavor any number of protein or vegetable dishes; having a few premade sauces on hand (store-bought or homemade, any of your favorite flavors) is an easy way to speed up your lunch prep. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)
Morning prep time: 10 minutes, using leftover refrigerated rice, store-bought meatballs, and leftover bell pepper. In the morning I microwaved the rice to restore its soft texture so I could work with it, and microwaved the meatballs to kill off any surface bacteria (see my post on packed lunch food safety). I made these without the molds at left, wetting my hands when I put the pieces of seaweed on in order to get them to stick. Honestly, it was just too much effort to dig the mold out from under my stove — I need to revisit my bento gear organization system to make the larger accessories more accessible.
Packing: Initially I just plopped the rice bombs down into the plain, unlined box, but they looked sad and lonely with the bare box bottom staring back up at me. So I grabbed a piece of lettuce from the refrigerator and lined the box with it for some nice color contrast (I’m guilty of unnecessary garnish here — Bug totally ignored the lettuce). Much better. The bell pepper went into a hard plastic food cup (yellow, to amplify the yellow of the bell pepper), and the grape tomatoes acted as gap fillers to stabilize the lunch in transit. The lunch is packed in one 350ml box from a Lock & Lock lunch set.
Verdict: A qualified thumbs up. Three-year-old Bug ate both of the rice bombs at preschool, and the rest afterwards as a snack. His preschool teacher said that the he had a little trouble eating the rice bombs as they were a little crumbly; this was my fault as I’d let the rice sit too long in the rice cooker before refrigerating it, and it dried out a little. For best results, either use fresh rice or be sure to freeze/refrigerate your leftover rice soon after cooking it, while it’s still at its most moist. (Click to read the full post with an additional lunch…)
Contents of preschooler lunch: A wrap sandwich of whole wheat tortilla with cream cheese and sugar-free strawberry jam, grape tomatoes, blueberries, and a broiled shiitake mushroom cap with Cheddar cheese.
Morning prep time: 8 minutes. In the morning I made the mushroom cap (brushed the mushroom with a little olive oil, filled it with grated Cheddar cheese, and broiled), then quickly made the simple wrap sandwich while the mushroom was in the convection toaster oven.
Packing: These kinds of wrap sandwiches lend themselves well to being sliced in smaller rounds and packed sushi-style to showcase their fillings, but Bug prefers them cut simply in half. With two longish rolls, the bento box selected itself: a long 350ml Lock & Lock container from the larger lunch set. I put the low mushroom cap into a disposable paper baking cup to keep the pile of blueberries from rolling all over it, and wedged in the grape tomatoes to act as gap fillers to stabilize the entire lunch in transit.
Verdict: So-so. Bug ate the wrap and the blueberries at preschool, and the tomatoes afterwards as a snack. He roundly ignored the mushroom, for reasons unknown (he usually devours mushrooms). Oh well, at least he got some fruits and veggies into him.
- Meatball rice “bomb” lunch for adult
- Frozen rice bento lunch
- Making and freezing onigiri (plain and grilled yaki onigiri)
- Biggie’s list of top speed tips, tutorials and equipment reviews
This entry is cross-posted to The Daily Tifffin parenting and lifestyle group blog, where I provide the Tiffin Tuesday column once a month.